Since the pandemic, remote work has become the new norm. Organizations that have already been adapting to agile find the concept of distributed teams relatively new since it came to the spotlight after remote work became more mainstream.
Today we will discuss distributed agile teams and how you can start working with agile methods in a distributed team.
Definition of A Distributed Agile Team
A distributed team is decentralized, and each team member is working from different physical locations. The team collaborates through consistent communication and different collaboration tools.
A distributed agile team is when the decentralized team collaborates and works on projects following the agile methodology. They follow all the agile principles and work in tandem, even in different geographical locations. The team members put their effort together to create a top-notch product with agile development procedures.
Can Agile Methodology And Distributed Team Formula Coexist?
Agile methodology and distributed team formula can coexist. But introducing remote work into the mix can create a few challenges.
Agile requires daily face-to-face meetings with all the team members to reflect on their work and plan their improvements. Though it is possible through modern collaboration tools, geographical differences can be a hindrance in the way of effective communication.
Another challenge can be working together. Distributed teams have little to no chance of meeting in real life, and the entire process of daily sprint planning or team retrospectives gets spoiled because of timezone differences.
But, despite the challenges, proper team collaboration can make these two coexist and work perfectly.
Benefits Of A Distributed Agile Team
1. It’s A Cost-Effective Solution
The salaries of your distributed agile team members can depend on the location. But compared to traditional hiring, distributed agile team members can save you a lot of costs while the price is fair for both parties.
2. You Get Access To Top Talents
When creating a distributed team, your choice isn’t limited to your region. You are getting access to a talent pool full of the world’s best professionals and high-experienced individuals. When you’re working with experts who know what they are doing, you can rest assured when it comes to project delivery and product quality.
3. The Team Is Highly Productive
Employees who work from home tend to be more productive. Since the distributed team is working remotely, they are sure to put in their best efforts to get things done. They also take fewer sick leaves since they are already in the comfort of their homes.
As a result, you can get a highly productive team working on your product with timely delivery in mind.
4. The Delivery Time is Predefined
In an agile environment, all the team members work on a predefined goal. Not just the goal, they have the features and their functionalities predefined as well, and the agile development team knows the best way to reach that goal.
When a team is working within a well-predicted time constraint, the delivery time can easily be predefined, which improves product image.
5. The Client Is Involved
Agile development involves the client directly in its development cycle through customer feedback and implementing said feedback.
Agile projects are customer-centric, and it’s up to the product owner to forward the customer feedback and user stories to the distributed team members so they can implement the stories for improvement.
When the client is directly involved in the development, the product designer and developers get a more humane idea of how the product should be and design the product in a way that will get maximum traction.
Organization Methods For A Distributed Agile Team
There are quite a few methods to organize a distributed agile team. Though it may seem like a lot of work at first, a self-organizing team following the agile principles always makes it easy for the team leaders and the management.
Team Size And Roles
The optimal size of an agile team is 3-9 members. Keeping the team size small can help with better communication, which is key for agile teams.
Before the development process begins, make sure that every team member understands their role in the process. But there are some challenges as well.
The biggest challenge when working with a distributed team is the difference in time zones. There is also the cultural difference between different locations. As a team leader, you must consider all possibilities to create a friendly work environment where the distributed team members feel safe and productive.
Team collaboration is the most important factor when working with a distributed team. Agile principles focus on communication and collaboration, and your team is no different. You have to provide the right set of tools and tech to go with the right practices so the entire process feels seamless.
You must create an environment where team members can offer their two cents on any matter without being judged or criticized. The goal of an agile culture is to create a greater environment for working, and a safe environment for providing feedback is the first step towards it.
Regarding workload distribution, the smartest move is not to keep all your developers in one location. You should distribute different functions evenly among different locations. That way, you don’t have to lose all your work in the case of any external circumstances or mishaps.
Within the team, remember to split the load equally. An uneven team comes with severe consequences, going as far as halting the entire project.
When one individual team member has too much on their plate, they delay the rest of the team members while catching up. And since the team is already working on different time schedules, overflowing a single member with work can cause the member to feel overworked and under-appreciated.
This can cause the team member to lose motivation to put in their best efforts for the project, and the project can suffer from inferior quality.
Product Backlog Management
Daily sync-up of all the teammates sounds cool on paper, but it can halt the progress of the team till a certain problem gets resolved.
The best way to overcome this issue is to manage the product backlog regularly. The product backlog describes what the team is developing and what they have to do to get something developed. When creating the product backlog, you must ensure that all the team members understand what the product backlog is all about.
You should also hold regular meetings for backlog refinement. It gives the whole team a refreshed perspective on their objectives and takes proactive measures to avoid any blockades that may arise.
Backlog refinement is a long-running process, and it’s up to you to ensure that it stays consistent so the team can efficiently develop the final product.
Right Agile Tools For The Perfect Team
Managing a remote team is much more challenging than working with a traditional physical team. When working with a distributed team that follows agile principles, the challenge goes up even further.
To make the process smoother, you need to take the help of different communication and collaboration tools to maintain team transparency and cooperation. It’s not about buying up a ton of tools and making the team use all of them.
Instead, observe your team and choose the right for the team. That should serve the purpose better.
Pair programming is a physical working concept where two people work in the same station where one code and the other monitors said code. At first glance, it can seem impossible when a distributed team is considered.
But modern collaboration and communication tools have made pair programming a breeze, and the distributed team members can easily check on the programmer’s screen using video conferencing software like Google Meet or Zoom.
Agile teams always have to work fast to keep in sync with each other. A low-code development approach is the best way to ensure efficient synchronization.
Low-code development platforms allow easier collaboration for non-technical people to work remotely as a distributed team.
Planning a few offline activities for your distributed team is a great way to ensure team bonding and work progress. Though it may require adjusting bigger budgets and time constraints, it’s still worthwhile.
Any offline activity can make everyone on the team feel like they are part of the crew. It increases team morale, and each member becomes more invested in the project mentally.
Strategies To Maximize The Output of Distributed Agile Teams
1. Invest In Tools For Better Collaboration
We may sound repetitive, but this point needs emphasizing. Team collaboration is the backbone of agile, and communication is the key here.
To ensure maximum communication and get the most output from every bit of development time the team spends, invest in the right tools that suit the current team composition.
2. Ensure Complete Transparency
As a project manager, it is up to you to ensure that the team has taken care of previous items in the backlog before proceeding to the next objective.
To ensure complete transparency of all team members, ensure that all project status reports are up-to-date and detailed. It can help you determine the scope of the remaining task while effectively planning the upcoming sprints.
3. Allocate Business Tasks Equally
Always ensure that you allocate every business objective equally and each team member is assigned a task that suits their strengths. When assigning tasks, you must remember not to overload a single member with extra tasks or give someone so few tasks they feel useless.
You must maintain the right balance for each teammate so they feel equally appreciated and functional.
4. Regular Status Reports
Agile methodology’s status reports and documentations are optional since it values the result over the process.
But documented status reports are important if you want a clear idea of how far you have come and how far you still have to go. Then, plan the roadmap for the distance accordingly.
You should not demand daily status reports. Set a regular interval for reports, and instruct the team to make each report as detailed and informative as possible before submitting it.
5. Constantly Measure Team Productivity
If you measure your team’s productivity and visualize the data, it’s easier for you to find out where you can improve the process for better outcomes.
Here are a couple of metrics for you to keep track of:
- Cumulative Flow Diagram: overall project progress and user story status.
- Sprint Burndown: The amount of story points your team completed in one sprint.
- Velocity: The team’s average story points over previous sprint cycles.
6. Consider Outsourcing
You should consider outsourcing for agile transformation and working with a properly distributed agile team. Outsourcing gives you access to a wide array of professional experts with prior experience working in an agile team.
When you work with experienced professionals, you save the time and expenses you would have to spare for training team members in Agile.
7. Analyze Code Quality
Distributed agile teams need help to check the quality of their code and product from time to time. But since it’s much tougher to check the quality of the code when working in a distributed manner, the quality of the code suffers and causes the project to halt.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, apply the following measures:
- Integrate tools for building and testing automation
- Test for bugs after regular intervals
- Implement pair programming to maintain quality
8. Create A Sense of Community
Your team members should always feel connected to one another, even when working from different locations. You need to create a supportive environment where every team member feels equally valued and is encouraged to share their insights to help each other develop.
There are different virtual team-building activities you can introduce within the team to create a sense of community among all the members. Agile practices require an agile environment, and as a project team leader, it’s up to you to create one.
5 Best Tools For Maintaining Distributed Agile Teams
There are many other tools out there for agile team maintenance, but these are the five we found to be the most effective and popular among agile team leaders.
Starting with the most popular agile team management tool, it’s a tool that allows you to plan, manage and track everything you need for your software development project.
It can track your workflow as well as your team’s workflow. With that said, here are the other main features of Jira:
- Custom Fields
- Custom Scrum Boards
- Customizable Kanban Sheets
- Tool Integration
- Bug Tracking
GitLab is popular for cloud-based DevOps management and can also be a powerful tool for agile project management.
GitLab helps with fast software delivery and risk mitigation while increasing the efficiency of the developer team. Here are the most noteworthy features of GitLab:
- Analytics & Reporting Feature
- Kanban Boards
- Portfolio Management
- Remote Collaborative Tools
- Workflow Management
One of the most popular agile development tools, where the features speak for the software itself. It’s best for reducing overheads and is used mostly in CI/CD, advanced coding, and security.
- Enterprise Security
- Project Management
- Product Roadmap
- Team Management
Trello allows you to manage agile project tasks as a team. Trello uses the Kanban board concept, representing the tasks as cards. The team can move through different completion stages by navigating through the cards or sorting them once the objectives are completed.
Here are the mentionable features of Trello:
- Customizable Boards & Tasks
- File Upload & Comment Feature For Cards
- Integretable With Google Drive, Slack, GitHub
- SSL Encryption Security
- User-Friendly VI
Asana is an organizational tool that can help you with project and team management. You can use Asana for project timeline and deadline management.
Here are the features of Asana that help your entire team stay on track:
- Calendar View
- Create & Assign Tasks To Teammates
- Gantt Chart View
- Integretable With Google Calendar, Slack & Dropbox
- Kanban-Style Boards
- Task Management
- Two Factor Authentication & Encryption Safety
Challenges of Working With Distributed Agile Teams
1. A Lot of Time Is Wasted In Meetings
It’s not guaranteed to happen, but it is a common occurrence. To ensure everyone’s on the same page, there will be quite a few meetings. The number of meetings might increase if the team isn’t experienced enough with Agile.
Moreover, the additional meetings can create burnout for the employees, as they will feel the need to compensate for the meeting time with extra work hours.
2. Trust Factor Between Team Members Is Low
It’s easy to get to know each other through online conversations, but within teammates, it’s only limited to short text messages or work emails. When the team is too formal with one another, it gets tougher for them to adapt to agile team practices.
Because in this team, the members only know each other. There is no bond or trust.
3. The Team Members Feel Isolated
When the team members work away from home all day, and the only interaction they get is a few emails throughout the day, the team members start to feel more isolated than the rest.
When team members start feeling like their opinions, and contributions don’t amount to anything, team morale starts to decline fast.
4. It’s Easy To Get Distracted During Conference Calls
There are a ton of distractions on the internet, and it is very easy to get distracted during office meetings or even work. You can’t blame the team; it’s a natural human reaction.
When people frequently turn their attention towards something that catches their eye during video conferences or other meetings, they have to catch up later, which adds up over time.
5. Authority Starts Threatening Flexibility
When a few teammates work from their homes, and others work from the office, there is a high chance of the physical team setting up all the work while the remote team just quietly listens and follows orders.
An agile team should be flexible and autonomous. Introducing any kind of authority into the equation threatens the team composition.
To Wrap It All Up
Even when people aren’t gathered in the same place, it’s very easy to create a distributed agile team that is autonomous, motivated, and productive.
It’s up to the scrum masters to ensure the scrum teams are working along the lines of the agile manifesto while the rest of the motivated team continues to work on the project with their ingenuity.
Want to work with a proper distributed agile team for your next software project? Consider collaborating with Impala Intech. We’re sure you’ll love the results!
A distributed agile team is where all the team members are decentralized and continue to work as a team based on the principles of the Agile Manifesto.
Each member of a distributed team may be from an entirely different geolocation. This gives the team a decentralized structure even when the team members collaborate for task completion. On the other hand, co-located team members are gathered in one location.
The biggest concern when working with a distributed agile team is the time differences between different locations. The team has to balance the work hours, and the reporting process becomes more complicated. Also, daily scrums may require more catching up than physical teams.
Communication and collaboration tools are the most important for any distributed agile team.
The best way to ensure productivity in any team is to make the team members feel validated. When the team members know their efforts are being recognized, they will stay motivated and offer higher productivity.